Vision and Freedom
I know that we protestants don’t go fully into the Saints tradition but we can always learn something from the lives of Godly people, who have walked the earth before us, and have been revered, even if overly so sometimes, because of the good witness they bore as followers of Jesus. Apart from St Andrew’s day St Patrick’s Day is easy for me to remember as it coincides with the birthday of one of our granddaughters.
So who was he? Well legends abound but a fair attempt at some accuracy may sound a bit like this:
St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain. Calpurnius, his father, was a Decurion and deacon, and his grandfather Potitus a priest. Patrick, however, was not an active believer. According to the Confession of St. Patrick, at the age of just sixteen Patrick was captured by a group of Irish pirates. They brought him to Ireland where he was enslaved and held captive for six years. Patrick writes in The Confession that the time he spent in captivity was critical to his spiritual development. He explains that the Lord had mercy on his youth and ignorance, and afforded him the opportunity to be forgiven of his sins and converted to Christianity. While in captivity, Saint Patrick worked as a shepherd and strengthened his relationship with God through prayer eventually leading him to convert to Christianity.
After six years of captivity he heard a voice telling him that he would soon go home, and that his ship was ready. After various adventures, he returned home to his family, now in his early twenties. After returning home to Britain, Saint Patrick continued to study Christianity.
Patrick recounts that he had a vision a few years after returning home:
I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish”. As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”
Acting on the vision, Patrick returned to Ireland as a Christian missionary. Patrick preached and converted all of Ireland for 40 years. He worked many miracles and wrote of his love for God in Confessions. After years of living in poverty, traveling and enduring much suffering he died March 17, 461.
Setting theological differences aside at least we can learn that St Patrick was a man of vision and according to the old K.J. version of Proverbs 29:18, Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. I am also impressed by the reaction of Patrick to his imprisonment which was, without doubt, an injustice. He converted to Christianity, developed a deep spirituality while living a life of servitude. Once released he did not squander his freedom but gave all of his life to God, for his glory and for the good of others.
All of that seems worthy of celebrating but do those who celebrate his feast day today do so for the right reasons? How do we celebrate our freedom, given to us from Christ? Where is our vision? Do we live solely for our own interests or for Jesus, the shepherd, and his flock? The life of St Patrick certainly raises many questions of us today.
Like the life of St. Patrick, the words of an old Irish song, ‘Be Thou My Vision’ reminds us of, and helps keep us in right living with the one who keeps us from perishing. As does St Patricks’ well known Breast Plate Prayer:-
Be Thou My Vision
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that thou art;
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
Be thou my Wisdom, and thou my true Word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, and I thy true son,
Thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise;
Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my treasure thou art.
High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
St Patrick’s Breast Plate
I arise today through
God’s strength to pilot me, God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to see before me,
God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me, God’s host to secure me –
against snares of devils,
against temptations and vices,
against inclinations of nature,
against everyone who shall wish me
ill, afar and anear,
alone and in a crowd…
Christ, be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit,
Christ where I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Christ.
May your salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.